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Magnet School Operators Seeking More Than $11300000 In State

In the face of the budget deficit and funding from the national unit for years, a magnet school operators union urged lawmakers to add $11300000 to the national capital, amounting to about $1000 children.

Bruce Douglas, executive director of the Capitol Region Education Council, which operates 19 magnet schools in the Hartford region, said that in the past five years, CREC magnets have not gotten any increase in per-pupil funding. The result has been that more of the financial burden for the schools has gradually shifted to local school districts.

"This is a social justice issue and it's about time the State of Connecticut get its act together with regard to funding public education," Douglas said.

In the 2011 fiscal year, for instance, the state covered 73 percent of the total cost of educating a child. This year, that percentage dropped to 70 — a difference of $397 per child or a total added cost to local districts of $2.9 million, according to CREC. The coalition represents five Regional Educational Service Centers that operate more than two dozen magnet schools across the state.

"It's pitting the school districts and the RESCs against each other with regard to these tuitions," Douglas said, "and this has to stop."

Douglas said the average state expenditure per magnet school student is now $9,000, though there is wide variation in the state funding available among the regions.

While the CREC schools in the Hartford region receive an average of $10,443 per child, magnets operated by RESCs in the New London and New Haven areas receive only an average of $7,900 per child.

Thomas Danehy, executive director of the Area Cooperative Educational Services, which operates magnets in the New Haven region, said this regional inequity in the average payments is also a key issue for magnets. That inequity, he said, is the result of the Sheff v. O'Neill desegregation suit, which has led to the development of many new magnets in the Hartford area.

"The present financing structure is inherently unfair," Danehy said in an e-mail. "The funding scheme shows the state's preference to pay more in the Sheff area to resolve a lawsuit than its moral obligation to provide statewide equal funding under the law. Students in New Haven, New London, and Bridgeport are worth just as much as students from Hartford."

Mia Flowers, an eighth grader at the Wintergreen Interdistrict Magnet School, said students have worried at times "that we might have to shut down because the school did not have enough money to keep going."

"Why hasn't our state taken action and funded my school out of respect for the students within the school?" she asked.

In addition to getting the state money, the magnet school operators receive a tuition payment from local districts that averages about $4,000 per pupil. For instance, Danehy said that for Wintergreen Interdistrict Magnet in Hamden, the state pays $7,900 per pupil, while the district pays $4,104.

But RESC directors say they don't want to offset their costs by raising tuition for local districts.

Eileen Howley, executive director of LEARN, the RESC for the southeastern portion of the state, said of the district's share: "I've tried to keep it as flat as possible … The goal is not to be a financial strain [for districts], but to be a solution-finder."

That has left some RESCs with deficits. Howley said she has schools with deficits. CREC also has a $5.2 million deficit for the next school year.

With a $1.3 billion state deficit, Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford and co-chairman of the legislature's education committee, said: "I guess my question to this coalition is the same for a lot of folks' requests for additional funding. Where are those funds going to come from? Have you got some new revenue source?"

Fleischmann said he doesn't see where the extra dollars will come from.

Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford and co-chairwoman of the appropriations committee, said she has introduced a bill that would narrow the state funding gap between the CREC magnets and the other RESC magnets.

She noted, however, that the percentage increase in state money for magnet schools in recent years has far exceeded the percentage increase in the Education Cost Sharing grants that go to the rest of the public schools.

"I'm sure they are doing incredible work," Bye said of the magnets "but there are also public schools doing great work. I think in some ways they don't have the PR."

Sen. Gayle Slossberg D-Milford, the new co-chairwoman of the education committee, said the magnet request is "part of a bigger conversation about equity in funding across the board. We really need to be looking at all of our students and what sort of funding increases they have gotten over the years."

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